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November 07, 2023

The people who will thrive as AI transforms the enterprise

AI is changing how businesses value human expertise. Here are three themes that will emerge in the AI-powered future.

As we approach a new era shaped by artificial intelligence (AI), it is worth reflecting on the future of traditional human skills. As a human resources (HR) leader, my focus has always been on people: understanding their strengths, helping them grow and enabling them to succeed.

Yet in a world where machines can synthesize vast amounts of data, perform ever more sophisticated tasks and even generate new ideas, the questions confronting professionals in my role have rapidly become much more complex.

Will depth of expertise still matter when algorithms can master complex topics in the blink of an eye? How will organizational frameworks need to evolve to enable the new speed of business? And what tools will leaders need to sharpen in their toolkit to empower their teams to succeed?

The answers to these questions will take years to become clear. But for now, I see three themes emerging on how human expertise will be valued in the AI-powered future. We’ll see business professionals begin to be valued more for their skills than their seniority, as well as the formation of expert teams made up of “accelerators” and led by “orchestrators.” And to guide enterprises through all this change, we’ll see business leaders develop the managerial skills needed to support, motivate and inspire employees to understand and embrace the new way of work.

Theme 1: Professional value will shift to adaptability and skills

Historically, workplaces were structured into rigid hierarchies. Static processes helped bring order to complex organizations. Yet the new pace of pervasive change requires radically new thinking. To achieve the level of agility, speed and ingenuity a high-performance business requires, we must reinvent how work gets done. Then, we can design the organizational structures that encourage the best results.

To drive outcomes effectively and quickly, teams will need to form dynamically, based on employee skills and the needs of the specific project. Consider the example of designing an exceptional user experience for anything from choosing a doctor to selecting an investment portfolio. The team would benefit from a data scientist’s expertise with AI models and prompts, an anthropologist’s understanding of human behavior, a storyteller’s knack for compelling user journeys, a UX specialist’s eye for digital interactions and an industry specialist’s deep expertise with the subject at hand. The emphasis will shift from hiring for a specific role to hiring for versatility and skills.

Hierarchy in this scenario decreases as skills—not job titles or seniority levels—determine an individual’s value on the team. Because people with the right mix of skills can be found in any business echelon, leaders will need to reach across the top, middle and lower rungs of the organization to assemble teams that are fit-for-purpose.

This shift has profound implications. Employees will have the opportunity to work on engaging projects and hone skills in new areas through collaboration. There will be more opportunities to pivot and reinvent oneself, and lifelong learning will become an obligatory investment that each of us will have to make to remain relevant. And, as Cognizant CEO Ravi Kumar S. has said, people will gain the skills to become problem finders (as opposed to the AI superpower of problem solving).

Businesses that make this more dynamic way of working rewarding for their people—and find ways to smartly support their employees’ professional and personal growth—will attract and retain the best talent.

Theme 2: Human experts will become orchestrators and accelerators

Both breadth and depth of expertise will hold value in an AI-augmented future. We’ll need the strategic oversight of leaders with a strong business understanding, who will assume a role comparable to orchestrators. They’ll have mastery of business fundamentals and general knowledge of the types of skills needed to reach a desired outcome.

Orchestrators will lead teams of specialists with deep domain knowledge. These specialists will be accelerators. They will help unlock the potential of generative AI more quickly and effectively than generalists by knowing how to interpret and further prompt AI systems to obtain and refine results.

Imagine a healthcare tech firm on the cusp of developing a revolutionary predictive model for early detection of a rare disease. Sarah, our orchestrator, is a project leader equipped with an extensive understanding of the business landscape, including customer needs, regulatory requirements and the competitive arena. She sets the project’s direction, ensuring all contributing parts are aligned and moving toward a shared objective.

On this hypothetical team, we also have our accelerators, such as Klaus, a data scientist with profound domain expertise in machine learning and healthcare, and Priya, a geneticist specializing in rare diseases. They are the engine that drives the project forward. Klaus has the know-how to prompt the generative AI model with the right questions, interpret the results and refine the model for better accuracy. Priya, with her specialized knowledge, can offer insights into the disease, crucial for the model’s development. Their expertise is paramount in accelerating the project’s progress by ensuring the AI model is as effective and efficient as possible.

Together, Sarah, Klaus and Priya play complementary roles in propelling the project forward.

Theme 3: Successful leaders will inspire, reassure and support

As the technology landscape morphs, the value of soft leadership skills will increase. Both leaders and employees will have to embrace the unfamiliar, evolve with it and recognize the synergy between human intuition and machine intelligence.

Successful leaders will be those who can empathetically help employees transition and find their place in the new landscape by offering motivation, reassurance, transparency and support.

The prospect of job displacement or significant alternation in job roles through automation will invite resistance and anxiety. This is, for many companies, a reality today. In these cases, leaders with a high emotional quotient (EQ) can better understand and respond to their teams’ concerns, motivating them and ensuring well-being in an environment of constant change.

Furthermore, as upskilling and reskilling become second-nature, inspirational leaders will be torchbearers and champion the change. They’ll go beyond endorsing this growth mindset to embodying it, in order to galvanize their teams.

Getting ready for massive change

In the end, human judgment will become more important than ever, even as AI revolutionizes the workplace. Technology can do many of the things that humans do today—and do them better—but it will never be able to replicate the depth of human judgment, the spark of our creativity or the passion that drives innovation.

But this does not mean people will continue doing the same things they do now in the same way. There will be an enormous period of adjustment. Helping employees succeed in this epic transformation will be the most important challenge for human resources leaders such as myself for many years to come.

To learn more, read the Culture and Values section of our website or contact us.

Kathy Diaz

Chief People Officer, Cognizant

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Kathy leads all aspects of people strategy at Cognizant, guiding how the company attracts, develops, engages and rewards its diverse global workforce. She is focused on ensuring Cognizant remains an employer of choice in the industry.

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